Stonehenge Landscape Research

2 Jun 2018

British Archaeology magazine (May of 2018) has an interesting article by Mike Pitts. It concerns geophysics surveys around Stonehenge. The Hidden Landscape project and the First Monuments project are quite well known but there has been a lot more archaeology that does not reach the mainstream media but is done by local groups and most importantly, prior to development. In this case there are new housing schemes in the vicinity of Amesbury and a huge commercial park to the east of Stonehenge. In addition, Larkhill army base is constructing new accommodation for troops returning from Germany. Stonehenge has traditionally been viewed as a stand alone monument with a few scattered earthworks such as the cursus. There is a lot more than that - a whole lot more as this was a lived in landscape over a long period of time. 10 to 9000 years ago Mesolithic people erected three huge fine posts (virtually, trimmed tree trunks) in the car park attached to the old visitor centre. Their use is unknown but they stood in a line - which gave rise to various theories involving astronomical sight lines. However, they date 4000 years before the henge. Recently, other post pits have been discovered. About 1.5km to the NW a post pit was excavated in 2010 and 5km to the SE (and dated 8300BC) there is another post pit - and they all appear to be in a straight line with the car park post holes. Mike Pitts says he is the first person to point this out, which might suggest most archaeologists have avoided mentioning it as it brings back the astronomical theories that have been buried for the last 30 years - let alone the more tenuous idea of ley lines.

I chose to write this up mainly because of the above apparent alignment - which of course may turn out not to be an alignment of significance. Did the object they might have been watching in the sky have anything to do with the 10000 years ago event that involved the severing of the land link between Britain and Ireland and the drowning of a large area of the continental shelf off western Europe? We can never know that but the dates are interesting to say the least. The event is usually dated around 8000BC - but it is not an exact calendar date as it has been worked out via sea level graphs (which are lines on paper that show an exponential rise in sea level with graceful loops rather than sudden jumps). In other words, it may have occurred much closer to 8300BC - and were the posts erected in the aftermath or prior to the event. Of course, if the genral alignment of all these post pits is not in a straight line and then it is all a false flag.

They have also discovered a ring of pits similar to the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge, close to the post pit near Amesbury. In fact, Mike Pitts, creating a nice piece of mystery to the find, points out the post pit and circle of pits is almost the same distance from each other as the car park post pits are from the Aubrey holes. What does that mean? It has always been thought the Aubrey holes were dug around the henge after 3100BC but is it possible they are older. Was their primary function to hold a bluestone circle or was this a later use - and the cremation burials were the original point of use of the pits. Even if the Aubrey holes were dug after the henge was constructed around 3100BC this does not mean there is not a loose connection with the post pits in the car park - an act of reverence if you like for a former monument. It is a point worth remembering that 3145BC is a major tree ring narrow growth event that may also have a connection with a cosmic event. There were major changes to civilisations and cultures around the globe at this time - and not least the period separating the PreDynastic from the Old Kingdom in Egypt (and a similar period of turmoil in Sumeria). In Britain it is recognised that there was a period of change between 3200 and 3000BC (old dating systems, pre IntCal2013). These older dates are more in line with the tree rings evidence - and the same applies to tree rings dates at 2345 and 2200BC towards the end of the 3rd millennium BC, now adjusted by IntCal2013 to 2500BC. This has the effect of leaving the tree ring narrow growth events high and dry - which may be accidental. IntCal2013 of course combines a lot of data and not just C14 and tree rings - and this divergence comes from using various other dating systems to get an average date. The idea is good but in practise it has meant abandoning a lot of the old dates that are still in textbooks written only a few years ago.

Most of the archaeological funding has been concentrated on the landscape north of the A303 - but to the south of this arbitrary line there is a lot of archaeology coming out of the ground - an area that has been traditionally ignored according to Mike Pitts. The World Heritage Site Landscape project have since 2008 examined almost evry known earthwork in the area using ground surveys, geophysics, aerial photography and laser scanning. The Hidden Landscape project has done a similar jobe right across the immediate terrain (nd so on). Other research includes the Riverside project (focussed on the river and Durrington Walls) and the discovery of Blick Mead at Vespsians fort (earthwork) is an onmgoing excavation (since 2005). Commerical development to the east of Amesbury has also provided archaeological information - including the grave of the Amesbury Archer. In the wider landscape Salisbury Plain has hundreds of prehistoric mounds galore. Great clusters of them lie on high ground between the Till and Avon rivers. Two ring ditches have also come to light in the Larkhill garrison site - each surrounded by a circle of pits.. In the Stonehenge circle itself there is a smaller circle (hidden under a shallow mound of earth) - and then we have the so called Heel Stone, an interesting feature by itself. It is one of the largest stones and is irregular in shape  and may have been dug out of the ground where it lies. The Riverside project had a look at the so called Cuckoo stone and the Torside (situated either side of the Avon). Both of these had been dug out of ground, nearby. The idea all the sarsen stones came from the Marlborough Downs is clearly not true. Sarsen is a sandstone that occurs above the chalk. In the Chilterns it was dug out to make slabs and cobbles in the 19th century but in Wiltshire the clay layer above the sarsens is absent (washed or eroded away). It would originally have capped all of the chalk - or most of it. Many of the Marlborough Downs sarsens ended up at Avebury - and some of these are huge (but many were broken up in the 17th and 18th centuries). Of course, this does not imply the stone lintels in the monument did not come from outside the immediate Stonehenge area. They were probably brought from further afield and worked and shaped prior to being used in the monument. What it does imply is that the Heel Stone, Torstone and Cuckoo Stone were already exposed prior to the building of the henge (or came to light during the building of the henge and avenue). This means the old idea the stones arrived in the second half of the 3rd millennium is not necessarily a trueism - and they could have been used in alignments when the henge was first erected (around 3100BC). Indeed, the site's basic geometry could have been derived from the natural posistions of these sarsen boulders (and any others that may not have been brought from distant parts). This also means it is more likely the bluestones were local too - although Mike Pitts doesn't say that. If the blue stones go back to 3100BC or earlier and then this is all the more likely as we have no idea at this stage how many erratics were on Salisbury Plain. All we know is that the clay layers of the Chilterns and SE England generally are absent in Wiltshire suggesting glacial melt waters may have cleaned the area down to the sarsen and chalk - which could at the same time have brought a variety of erratics from diverse areas, depositing them as the water subsided. Erratics do not have to be dispersed by glaciation as melt water in the post glacial period is quite capable of doing the same thing - but not always accepted by geologist theory as it smacks of Biblical flood beliefs (prior to the uniformitarian theory). We live a long way away from Biblical concepts built into geological research so we should have no fear of invoking a resurrection of a flood to explain all geological oddities. The clay and flints of the Chilterns, for example is composed of chalk and silt (and water clays) and clearly has a watery origin of some kind. The fact that it contains flints embeded in the clay, often broken and fragmentary rather than as nodules, only means it has inclusions of flint from now lost parts of the Upper Chalk formation. The Chiltern Plateau has varying amounts of the Upper Chalk formation. In some areas it has been eroded or washed away right down to the hard chalk layer (the former sea bed as it contains fossil burrows and fossils) between the Upper and Middle chalk. Obviously, such a scenario is suitable for a more catastrophist interpretation of geology - episodic events.

Mike Pitts continues by mentioning the two cursus monuments to the north of Stonehenge (a short walk away). The cursus ditch is virtually filled in by run off over the centuries but the outline in the grass is clearly visible. The larger cursus has been dated 3650 to 3370BC - and 70 years ago fragments of blue stone were found nearby (when the general public were allowed to poke around). AQnother mystery is the circle of cremation burials inside the henge. Up to 200 people appear to have been buried there - folliwng in the tradition of Neolithic burials in long barrows in the 4th millennium. This is the only cremation cemetary as yet found in Wiltshire but other cemeteries have been found in Dorset, Wales, and Scotland, and all date to the  first half of the third millennium BC. They were created, it is thought, by the Grooved Ware culture people - but their beliefs in the afterlife are an unknown. A batch of far flung connections seem to appear around this time (post 3100BC) from Orkney to Cornwall, suggesting a spread of ideas (and pottery) across Britain. These people also built lots of monuments and cremation was still being used afer the large sarsens were brought in and carved and shaped etc., arranged in rings and arcs. Over the following five centuries the blue stones were moved and rearranged. Axes were carved on stones, and dagger shapes. These may well refer to meteoric phenomena as a result of the earth passing through dense streams of cometary material outgassed by a passing comet - and subsequently dispersed into the wider region of space. Even today the earth passes through the remnants of a number of cometary passages giving rise to annual meteor showers.

The construction of the lintelled monument is the next stage - after 2500BC. At about the same time metals appear and beaker pots which herald the arrival of people practising inhumation. Later, Mike Pitts picks up on the recent genetic research which has suggested new people (with an origin in the Netherlands and Frisia) arrived and the composition of the makeup of the British was changed - with only ten per cent of Neolithic people surviving into the second millennium Bronze Age. They have inevitably been identified as the Beaker people - but is this justified. Beakers first appear in Iberia somewhat earlier than 2500BC (and there is a suggestion they turn up in Neolithic contexts in Britain at a fairly early stage). One way of looking at this is to suppose the Beaker culture was first established on the near continent and a migration event subsequently occurred which brought people into Britain with the culture already intact (without the necessity of proselytising the natives). Moe Mandelkehr in his series of articles for SIS catalogued a whole series of migrations around the globe around 2300BC - including Europe. As Mike Pitts says, archaeologists have been loathe to look at migration in order to explain cultural changes over the last 50 years or so as the idea went out of fashion. The new genetic data has brought it back to life -and at the moment cannot be ignored (although the genetic data appears to be somewhat surprising). Although Mandelkehr envisaged a single event he dated at 2300BC it is clear there was a double whammy - and this is best explained in an article by Mike Baillie and McAnaney which delineates narrow growth tree ring events at 2345 and 2200 BC. IntCal2013 has somewhat spoilt this marvellous link as dates have shifted upwards (because it is a system of averaged dates that includes less exact methodologies such as speleotherms etc). Baillie's two events fit into end of Early Dynastic III in Sumeria followed by end of Akkad some 150 years later. This suggests the first stage of the stone monument was created by the Neolithic population but the second event may have included input via the migration of Beaker using people from the Low Countries. There is a possibility the Neolithic Grooved Ware people were struck by an epidemic of some kind - or by a catastrophic event that led to high levels of loss of life. However, we have to bear in mind that the genetic study was done with novel techniques that have not as yet been challenged. Also, all the genetic studies involve limited numbers of subjects to test. Although the latest study involves a lot of skeletal material they are spread over a very large area - and the numbers are still a short sample. We might wonder if the Grooved Ware people continued to use cremation rather than inhumation - or if they might have migrated to other parts of Britain not sampled in the study. Oppenheimer claimed, over a decade ago, that modern British people have the genetic signature of people who entered the country after the end of the last Ice Age - now they are talking about a wide spread migration of people from the Low Countries. Of course it is also likely that the people of that region had a similar origin to Mesolithic people in Britain - as the spread of the Magdalenian culture may intimate. In other words, such imiigrants would not entirely have been foreigners as prior to the creation of the North Sea basin around 6200BC people would have passed to and fro. How this might affect genetic data is not clear (to a layman) but presumably they can tell the difference. In the new study it involves genetic material that arrived in greater Europe after the 3100BC event - and this genetic material became part of the genetics of the people of the Low Countries. It all sounds quite complicated and we have no idea if cremated material might show a quite different level of migration and a greater survival of Neolithic genetic material. What is clear is that there was a migration of people and that must have affected the Stonehenge area and monument as much as anywhere else - but did they arrive in the wake of the first event, or the second. If the former they would have contributed to the final form at Stonehenge but if the latter they may not have contributed very much at all. One might suppose there were migrations after both events - which complicates it further.

See further at www.archaeologyuk.org and http://services.historicengland.org.uk/rrstonehenge